Iceage: The Plight Of The Dispossessed
“And I never liked to ask for a helping hand/ But I do now.” Elias Ronnenfelt’s heart breaking, poetic lyrics on recent single The Lord’s Favourite echo a sentiment that rings true to his band. Iceage have always been out there on their own. Even when surrounded by a stirring music scene in their home city, they’ve made no compromises. They’re doing things on their own terms and they don’t trust the press. As press we can confirm that this glimmer, this carrot is greater than any number of hit singles. We love a challenge, we love to be confronted with our own bullshit. In truth, when we finally got hold of the Danish band we found ourselves questioning it ourselves. Treading it back down the hallway and hanging our tail between our legs as we went.
Maybe a band who were sensationalised, called “teenage bullies full of anger and anxiety” by a Danish tabloid and accused of sympathising with fascism in the early stages of their career have a right to feel antipathy towards the mainstream media, “They [journalists] have a tendency to alter and rearrange my answers,” Elias tells us in a post-interview e-mail. “Never trust a journalist.” His feelings on the subject echo guitarist Johann’s comments from a conversation we’d had earlier in the day. “It’s journalists who put us in the role of ‘rebels’, we just do what we do and some would say we are rebels, but I don’t consider myself that way.”
It’s clear that they’re done talking about it. Rightly so.
Browsing the liner notes of Iceage’s latest record Plowing Into The Field of Love, you’ll find some of Elias’s most insightful, hopeless and gut-wrenching lyrics to date, as emotional imagery weaves through carefully constructed, pertinent stanzas. “I wrote most of the lyrics over a period of two weeks in a friend’s apartment in Berlin last January, so a lot of it is a portrait of my conditions and my head space at that time,” he tells us. During Elias’s formative stages as a songwriter, there was a time when poetry and literature made a huge impact on his lyrics, and he’s happy to discuss his influences: “At first writers like Jean Genet, Yukio Mishima and George Bataille sparked my interest in writing. They all share a way of elevating very foul, depraved circumstances and thinking, into this beautiful and ecstatic glory,” he extolls with great enthusiasm.
Beauty from depravity is something Elias harnesses to great effect. Often intensely personal and increasingly anthemic, the songs he creates alongside his band are raw, deconstructed works of punk idolatry. Against The Moon – the closest thing the album gets to a bona fide ballad – is a rousing eulogy to self-confidence, and Elias explains that the song is about “carelessly pursuing something that you know could never succeed. Wasting time on futile endeavours.” As well as being one of the most introspective songs the band have recorded, it’s also one of the most spontaneous. “Elias just sat down at the organ,” Johann says, “he just started playing a few chords and we added a bassline and it was just like ‘yeah, this is something that works.’”
The most important thing for Iceage is to live outside of a vacuum, in order to push their music forwards. Across their three albums, you’ll hear the sound of a band developing, turning into more than just a great punk band. Elias lets nothing get in the way, drawing his vision from his own qualms (“Panic. Bad decisions. All kinds of procrastination. I haven’t really lacked inspiration for years”), and when he’s not working he’s at a loss, turning his harsh critique against himself. “Since we finished Plowing…, I’ve been a mess. I find that once you don’t have a song or a project of some sort to turn your criticism against, then you turn it towards yourself. It’s beginning to get better though.”
And with the expectations for Iceage to play the agitators fading away, Johann’s final comments during our conversation confirm what’s been the band’s true intention from the start. “The only pressure we feel is the pressure we put on ourselves to live up to our own expectations. I am the only person I wouldn’t want to disappoint.”
Plowing Into The Field Of Love is out now via Matador.